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View from the lounge at Heathrow

View from the lounge at Heathrow

Air travel is a drudge. A first-world problem and a privileged drudge, to be sure, but ignore the context of being lucky enough to travel within the same day to many different parts of the world and with repetition the routine starts to drag.

What is there to sweeten the pill? Airlines know where the big money is, and it’s not with the occasional traveller. The high margins come from business bums on business seats, and those business hot-shots need to be kept amused enough to keep coming back. Hence the reward programmes, fast-tracks and choices of free wines and spirits on offer. BA’s Executive Club, which issues its own currency called Avios (a kind of 21st century Green Shield Stamps) is perhaps the world’s favourite reward and loyalty membership scheme. Being British, it also operates on a sort of class system of Blue, Bronze, Silver, and Gold tier levels. But being British, you’re not supposed to talk about the class system too much, especially if you’re up in the Gold tier; you just slip invisibly past everyone else as you are whisked through to your First Class lounge. Ah yes, the lounge. You can get into the lesser BA lounges, regardless of your seating on the plane, if you have a Silver card. I do just about enough each year to quality for a Silver card and I admit I usually make a bee-line for the relative peace and quiet to be found there after check-in. Where else can you stock up on free bags of Kettle chips?

I suspect I do a fair amount of long-haul, particularly considering I’m not working for a corporate multinational. But letters after your name do not get you to the front of the plane – no matter how top your top business school is  – so the groovy flat bed (I’m rather like Derek Zoolander on a plane; I can’t turn left…) remains tantalisingly hidden behind a curtain a few meters away, while I recoil from the early recline of the seat-shaped domino piece in front of me.  There’s an etiquette needed at the back of a large plane about when it is allowable to push your seat back –  which is a kind of mid-air ballet – so that no-one’s thechickenorthebeef ends up on their lap.

BA annihilate your annual, accrued tier points balance each year, which is different from the Avios points that you might redeem against a free flight or an Avis car hire, etc.. (actually, this is a pretty good offer). So if you go over the number needed to keep you in a tier, you lose the excess and the clock is set back at zero. Excitingly, I’ve just discovered that they keep a track of the tier points overall and, if you reach 35,000, they give you Gold tier status – for life!

This is the airline reward scheme equivalent of buying yourself into a peerage in the House of Lords. Champagne and cheese and onion crisps… for life!! The catch?

35,000 tier points.

Now, I’ve been in their scheme for about 10 years and I’ve only got to 10% of that. Assuming that somehow I stick around as a customer on my current annual rate, I estimate that it will only take me another 45 years to reach this significant social milestone. By then I’ll be closing in on 100 years old. Which will I treasure more, the telegram from the King (ah-ha, you see, even the monarchy will have moved on by then) or the permanent Gold card?

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